Friday, July 25, 2014

Clones, Cat Nappers, and Cadavers

My muse, Wren.
There is not another human being on the planet that loves their pets more than I do, (OK, there might be a few of you out there, but you understand me)..add to that that I don't have any children other than my four cats, two dogs, and pet potbellied pig, and my pet-fanaticism is over the normal socially acceptable limit. (Yes, I do have a "crazy cat lady" coffee cup that I use proudly). I identify with the labels, I embrace the snickering, and there is nothing anyone can say or do to shame me into hiding it!

Oriole. In charge.
If I had to pick sides I would say that for as long as my feet are planted on this earth and my lungs draw breath I will have a cat beside me. They were my first pet and they will be my last.

Playing with Wren.
Because of my devotion to my kitties I read the latest press release from the University Of Georgia's Veterinary School about their second kidney transplant with great interest and contemplation.The University of Georgia continues to forge a path into the relatively new field of companion animal organ transplants. They  are now incorporating the use of stem cells to help the recipients body from rejecting the new kidney. This surgery was different from previous feline kidney transplants because it incorporated the pioneering approach of using harvested stem cells to help the recipient,  Arthur, the most recent kidney transplant patient, is a four year old Siamese cat who was dying of kidney failure. He had been diagnosed at age 3 and his only chance for long term survival was to find a donor and receive a new kidney via transplant. Stem cells were used because his body had not responded well to the more traditional anti-rejection medications used to help a donor accept a new organ. Arthur had been turned down for the surgery at two other teaching hospitals because of this. Without the use of stem cells Arthur would not have been a candidate for the surgery and he would have died from his kidney disease.

There are a few areas of Arthur's story that I find incredibly compelling and warranting further discussion.

First is the concept of organ transplant for pets. Next to cloning there isn't anything left that proves our affinity for our pets. Extending their lives with human equivalent medical and surgical options is a testament to our desire and ability to keep our pets with us for as long as possible.

The question has shifted from the impossible to obtain the service to the ethical of who is eligible?

This is how I watch tv every night;
Sharing the couch with a relaxed Magpie.
How close do our human medical and surgical options mirror our pets options? The line gets blurry and seems that the options are only now limited by our wallets.

Of comfort to my moral conscious is the fact that all kidney transplant donors are shelter cats. Those cats need to meet certain criteria to be donor eligible, but they must also be adopted into the family whose cat is receiving the kidney and remain a lifelong pet. The prince and the pauper are expected to be on equal footing after they share a kidney of the same origin.

Is every cat kidney transplant worthy? Yes, of course in my eyes. Every cat is capable of eliciting and demonstrating as much affection, improving the quality of their owners and families lives, and for that there is no dollar amount to prove a pet's worth and value.

Do I think that the majority of the public scoffs at the idea that I share my home with 4 cats who are given access to as much of my home as every other human inhabitant is? Yes.

Do I think that many people  lack the ability to understand why I am so crazy about my cats? Yes.

And, do I think that I would transplant an organ from one cat that I do not know, but would inevitably love as much as my others, to one of my resident kids? Well, yes, perhaps I would. I see my pets as my kids and it is my job and my responsibility to care for, protect, and provide what they need to live a happy healthy life.

Jitterbug, in a rare frozen pose state.
Here is where I hear my internal voice quibbling.

Where is my line?

Where is that point where I say this is too much? Having had a dog who underwent radiation therapy for a tumor that extended his life 6 months at considerable cost, I believe I would do that again. And for all of the difficulty Savannah's last year was, I would happily do that again. My dear old kitties had wonderful lives, even though saying goodbye was so terribly hard. For me, maybe there is truth in the knowing what the sadness for without that I would not know what the joy is. And for all of the many many pets whose lives I have been a part of, each pet and each story, whether they be long and thriving, or short and tragic there is always another chapter and often a sense of being a small part of a greater force in a mysterious universe.

Let me try to explain this.

Let's start with an easier topic to debate; Cloning. I have written about this before.

At some point there needs to be a long thought out discussion on not what is possible, but what is ethical.

Life isn't about cheating and stealing a way to live forever. Life is about learning to live and enjoy this time that you have. Don't wait until you are dying to realize that life was a precious gift. You get one shot, you know the old saying "life isn't a dress rehearsal," and the advice about doing the things on your bucket list now..well, there's truth in those words of wisdom.

Veterinarians know all to well that life is not fair. We watch puppies die of treatable and even avoidable disease and illness, (often because of just pure neglect and  poorly educated parents). We see 2 year olds die of cancer. Cats die from fleas, lack of resources, or just because they serve no perceived purpose to their owner. Many vets are asked, and required to euthanize routinely.

Cloning doesn't get you your pet back. It gets you a close representation of them. Your loss still needs to be addressed like everyone else's. Losing a pet that you love is really, really hard. But the memories are yours forever, and the difference that you made in taking care of them changes the world in which you live in, forever. Getting through grief is possible, and loving another pet is also possible. They will bring new joy to your life if you can open your heart and let them.

For as hard as it was to lose my dear cat DC and my Savannah, and all of the rest of them, I have a new set of rescues who are happily living a life of pampering and bliss in our home. I miss my departed pets, as I miss my departed friends. But I wouldn't ask to go back and re-incarnate them into the shell of what they used to be. What I miss is the spirit and the soul of who they were, that never can be replicated, duplicated, or re-born. That is the gift of life.

Life isn't fair, but it does go on.

My days at the clinic always include cat naps.

Find Arthur's Story Here.

Find more information on the University of Georgia's transplant program here.

For more information on stem cell use, research, and future use in medicine please see, Huffington Post here.

Or, See Pet Health Gazette and Jana Rade's blog here.

Previous blogs relating to this one;
Charlie Arrives
Pete The Vet, Blog On Cloning.
Savannah's Saga
How Many Sides Does Your Equation Have?

If you have a question about anything pet related you can ask a whole community of pet loving and dedicated professionals on Pawbly is free to use and open to everyone who loves pets.

You can also find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. 

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